It was “all show and no go” at George W. Bush’s economic summit in Waco, Texas, Aug. 13, a stage-managed production with a handpicked cast of Republican loyalists dutifully applauding Bush’s trite line that all is well because “this is America.” The Dow Jones reacted by plummeting 206 points, while US Airways announced it was bankrupt, with United Airlines expected to follow suit, meaning the loss of thousands of jobs. American Airlines announced it will eliminate 7,500 jobs. This despite Bush’s ramming through a $14 billion bailout of the airlines right after Sept. 11.

At the summit, Bush sat beside Charles W. Schwab of Charles Schwab brokerage corporation, which poured $406,000 in soft money into Republican campaign coffers in the 2000 elections. “The bear market that we’re suffering through right now is probably the worst I have ever gone through and that’s not a very comfortable place to be,” Schwab said glumly. As he spoke, his $700 billion corporation was announcing 400 layoffs.

To beef up the scant news value of the event, Bush announced in the final plenary that he will veto a $5.1 billion supplemental for Homeland Security approved by Congress. “We’ll spend none of it,” said Bush as the crowd applauded on cue. The package would have provided $90 million for a health study of rescue and recovery workers at the World Trade Center site, funds to upgrade emergency communications systems and $200 million for AIDS prevention.

“Withholding these funds is a cynical attempt to avert attention from the administration’s failure to revive a stagnant economy,” said Rep. Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.), who serves on the House Appropriations Committee.

AFL-CIO President John Sweeney reacted to the summit, charging that Bush’s economic policies, while good for big business, “have not been good for America’s working men and women.” Nearly 10 million workers are unemployed, Sweeney charged, with manufacturing “decimated” by the loss of two million jobs since 1998. One million of those jobs were lost in just the last year.

“Despite a much-touted but anemic recovery,” Sweeney said, “working men and women are increasingly out of work, losing vast amounts of retirement savings, without health coverage and hardhit by growing trade deficits, especially in the manufacturing sector.”

Sweeney added, “It’s important that we take a sober look at what’s happening and summon a national will to act on their urgent needs and priorities in a meaningful way rather than put a sheen on a cloudy picture.”

Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax cut lavished a $500 billion tax cut windfall on the wealthiest 1 percent of taxpayers, Sweeney added. Budget surpluses have evaporated and now 43 states are facing severe budget shortfalls totalling $37.2 billion. It has forced 22 states to cut health care services and 25 states to slash their public safety budgets.

Christian Weller, an economist at the Economic Policy Institute, ridiculed the Bush Economic Summit during a telephone interview. It put a “feel-good spin on the economy when there’s not much to feel good about,” he told the World.

While Treasury Secretary Paul O’Neill and other Bush administration officials continue to maintain that the economy is sound and on track, the numbers show differently:

* Economic growth of 1.1 percent in the second quarter of 2002;

* One and one half million workers unemployed for at least six months;

* Manufacturing employment down by almost 1 million in the last 12 months;

* One in four textile jobs, one in five primary metal jobs and one in three in apparel jobs lost in the last four years;

* A widening gap between rich and poor.

Small wonder that polls show 20 percent of respondents describing current economic conditions as “poor,” while nearly 50 percent say conditions are “only fair.” And small wonder the White House is concerned that nervous voters could turn Republican incumbents out of office in this year’s midterm election.

A recent Commerce Department report admitted that the Bush administration, taking its lead from WorldCom and Enron, cooked the books and that the economy’s skid into recession last year began earlier, lasted longer and cut more deeply into the full year’s performance than previously admitted.

The speakers at the forum include major corporate donors to the Republican Party including Glen A. Barton of Caterpillar ($255,000) and John T. Chambers, CEO of Cisco Systems ($435,000). Another participant was Henry A McKinnell of Pfizer Inc., the pharmaceutical giant, which poured $1.4 million into GOP coffers in the 2000 elections.

“It’s purely political, purely P.R.,” said Bruce Bartlett, an economist who worked in the administrations of President Ronald Reagan and President George Bush. “They’ll tell the president what he wants to hear, and reaffirm his policies.”

John Miller, an economist at the Institute for Public Accuracy, called the forum an “economic gabfest filled with blather about how more giveaways to the rich and less government are the only way to get the economy moving and put people back to work.”

Miller said a serious approach to getting the economy moving includes abandonment of what is left of Bush’s $1.35 trillion tax giveaway and restoration of spending for the nation’s infrastructure and social service needs. “But those ideas didn’t make it onto the agenda. Economic policy made for and by those attending the forum is the problem, not the solution.”

Fred Gaboury can be reached at fgab708@aol.com;
Tim Wheeler can be reached at greenerpastures21212@yahoo.com

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